I'll start with my book!
Everything is Beautiful is about Amy Ashton. She used to be an artist, but now she collects objects she sees as beautiful – chipped mugs, translucent empty wine bottles that catch the light, dried husks of honeysuckle – among many others. These objects have completely filled her house and her life – there isn’t room for anyone else, and there’s barely room for her. We learn that the hoarding began after the unexplained disappearance of her boyfriend and best friend, which she eventually put down to betrayal.
Then a new family move in next door with two little boys. They sneak into her garden and knock over a tower of pots, which reveals a clue to her past. This opens the book’s mystery – what did happen to her loved ones? And it starts Amy on a path to try to discover the truth, and rediscover a bit of herself in the process.
The idea came to me while I was pregnant with my second child. As my belly grew bigger and I found it more difficult to lift my toddler son, he started collecting objects in the park: twigs, empty bottles and wilting daisies. He treasured these objects almost compulsively, I think holding onto his possessions in expectation of the changes that were to come. It made me think of an instinct many of us have – to hold onto things to help us feel secure – and what might happen if that spiralled out of control.
Are you working on something now?
Tell us about yourself?
Yes, I’m working on my next novel. I wrote Everything is Beautiful while I was on maternity leave with my daughter, and I was looking forward to writing the next one without interruptions from my baby. Then lockdown happened, so I had to start it while I had two toddlers on my hands!
Thankfully I have more time to focus on it now and am working on some big edits which have been surprisingly exciting to do. I won’t give away too much about the new book just yet – and it’s changing all the time – but there will be a mystery, potential for recovery and some children (of course!)
Which six books will you take to the Island?
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
This is my favourite book of all time. It’s just so beautifully written. There is a passage about how a dog biscuit dissolves that is just so wonderful it almost makes me cry. Plus when I’m on my own on an island I reckon reading about a jazz age party will be just the escapism I need.
One Day by David Nicholls
This is a masterclass on writing relationships, with his protagonists’ love for each other shining through despite all their faults and foibles. In a time when human interactions have been limited, I love it when books remind me why, ultimately, people are better when they are together.
Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian.
This is a children’s book about a boy who was evacuated in the war and finds himself with a gruff but kind old man. I think it’s ‘uplit’ before the term was invented and I absolutely love it. I re-read it every so often as an adult and always enjoy it just as much as the first time. It’s just so beautifully done – and poignant and lovely without being saccharine.
The Stargazer's Guide to the Night Sky by Jason Lisle.
This book would serve several purposes. I could use it to learn about the star and constellations, which I’ve always fancied knowing about but have never had time to devote to learning. Plus it would give me something to do in the long nights while I’m there and have nothing else to do but stare at the sky. I’ve also got the beginnings of an idea for a new book around this area and would love to get the chance to research. Everything is Beautiful is about small things that are very close to my main character and I’d love to change focus to include huge balls of burning gas that are light years away!
Gary’s Banana Drama by Jane Massey
This s a gorgeous picture book and I’ll take it to remind myself of my kids. They are two and four and will be driving my husband insane back home while I’m stuck out here. They love this book – about a gorilla who wants a banana so much that everything starts to look like bananas to him. It always makes me want a banana and I bet there will be plenty on the island.
Which disc will you take to the Island?
It would be ‘Be my Baby’ by the Ronettes. It was the first dance song at my wedding (many years ago now) and I fancy seeing if I can remember the steps.
What will be your luxury item?
I think I’ll take a nice comfy hammock that I can use for all my stargazing and eating bananas! Hammocks remind me of when I first believed that maybe I could write a novel – I was on a yoga holiday in Turkey that came with creative writing from the brilliant Philippa Pride (AKA The Book Doctor) who is a fantastic writing coach as well as Stephen King’s UK editor. I still remember relaxing in a hammock while doing one of her writing exercises and thinking yes, this is what I would love to do with my life.
Which fictional character will you meet?
Eleanor Oliphant. Although she might not seem like the easiest of companions, I’d love to see how she’s doing now, and also find out what happened with Raymond – I’m curious as to whether romance blossomed or if they are still just friends. I think I’d be equally delighted with either. And I think after what she’s been through, she could do with a few hours on a nice peaceful island, even if she does have to chat with me.